Sci Fi on the Rock and the culture of silence

I feel like there’s been a substantial increase in my awareness this past year or two of the various ills that plague the geek community. There was that fighting game reality show, and that aborted game jam reality show, and the various assholeries that plagued SFWA, not to mention various attacks directed at people whose work and presence online I like.

I feel like this past weekend at Sci Fi on the Rock 8 we saw some signs that that event is falling prey to the same problems.  There seems to be  a culture of silence rising in the organization of that event.

Maybe I’m overreacting. I only have two examples, one of which could just be my own oversensitivity.

I was explicitly instructed by the organizer of the Game Jam panel not to talk about any negative experiences I had during that event because “I have put a lot of work into this”.  Maybe that’s fair. In my case it didn’t matter that much; I got most of the things I wanted to get out of the event, including, at my own prompting, an introduction to the other people working on games there.  It’s a very insular event, but I’m given to understand that can happen at times at game jams everywhere.

Still, it’s unfortunate.  The StartupNL events I’ve gone to have been incredibly social and have felt very dynamic at times as a result.  They are emotional rollercoasters in the best sense – you put your all into a thing, and you get it back, and you feel delighted to see not only your own achievements but everyone else’s as well.  I want that for games in Newfoundland and Labrador. I want it for all of the creative communities here.

Maybe it’s ok that someone wants to protect their investment, and maybe it’s ok that it hasn’t caught on in the wider community.  Maybe silence isn’t to blame for anything there.

But the second incident makes me very, very nervous about silence at the con.  There was the briefest of discussions about an incident with what I assume is a con-goer on Facebook.  People asked about someone’s whereabouts, and it sounded like there was a bit of a panic around finding the individual in question.  Very soon thereafter, the event organizer showed up in the discussion and stated that people should not be “speculating on what went on”, and that the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary are now involved.

As I write this, I can no longer find that discussion.  Maybe that’s a Facebook problem rather than an action by an event organizer.  But if it’s not, if someone hid that discussion, then that’s a destructive silence.  Scalzi’s pledge re: harassment policies holds here: if you are going to hush up problems rather than discuss them with your attendees and deal with the persons responsible in a suitable manner, that’s a huge issue.

I have heard other things about the con, things in the back office that make it difficult for anyone who wants the organization to change at all.  I have concerns there, but I’m not on the committees or party to their discussions. So I will leave that alone.

I hope I’m wrong about all of this.  I certainly could be.  I think the con is a fantastic achievement.  But I am worried about the seeming aversion to talking about what’s wrong with the event.  I think that recent history shows that’s absolutely the wrong way to deal with problems, particularly in this context.

7 thoughts on “Sci Fi on the Rock and the culture of silence

  1. Just wanted to make a couple of quick comments, mostly since I’m not affiliated with the con beyond being an attendee and having a group that has attended the past number of years. Regarding the Game Jam situation, it sounds to me like it’s an issue with the GJ organizer rather than the con (I’ve never experienced the SFotR people being closed to criticisms or suggestions–in fact, last year, they changed the time of the con based on criticism, and also changed a number of space/layout issues due to feedback).

    Regarding the second situation, I was present when it went down, and the situation was entirely unrelated to the convention beyond the missing person in question having attended the con earlier in the day. The post on FB requested photos of the person to try and learn whether or not they were hanging out with anyone suspicious there, but it eventually dissolved into a lot of public speculation about a private matter that was under police investigation (including the name of a minor). The FB group manager(s) were quite right in deleting this information, as the police would’ve probably asked them to do (or may HAVE asked them to do). This isn’t a matter of silence as much as protection of identity for minors and potential victims of crimes. From my understanding, no crime had ultimately happened, so it’s moot anyway, but I hope this does help to explain why the post was likely deleted.

    • Thanks Brent. I didn’t see the name or make the connection about the request for photos. Having said that, it makes me feel more than a little uneasy to see it disappear without even a note about the resolution. If the police became involved and asked the organizers to remove discussion of the incident, that should have been noted. I personally don’t think that’s a lot to ask, particularly since I have friends whose kids will likely want to go to the convention soon and I’d like to be able to tell them the organizers are not simply burying things that happen during/in proximity to the con.

      • Yeah, I agree. It’s a shame that they didn’t post some acknowledgement and confirmation that the situation was resolved. I suppose more an example of poor communication than anything else. It’s definitely important to keep a good face forward, and a big part of that is the perception of those seeing the messages.

  2. Hey Mike,
    I understand your concerns, but let me assure you we have harassment guidelines (based on John Scalzi’s) that we take very seriously. It is _extremely_ rare that an issue arises (I know of 3 incidents over the 8 years), and the ones that have come up are of a personal nature and certainly not anything for general attendees to be involved in or concerned about. If there was ANY threat to the general population at the festival, I promise you that everyone would be informed. The safety and security of all attendees is our highest priority. Our harassment policy is available on our website and posted everywhere at the hotel. Our committee is in colour-coded shirts so we can be found easily.
    We have not publicly discussed the incident in question because it happened off-site and is a police matter involving a minor. Silence does not equal a cover up. The issue was brought to our attention late at night and resolved, to our knowledge, in the early morning. The posts were removed because they were unnecessary and potentially damaging to the people in question. They weren’t publicly discussed because of the age of the individual, and any discussion would be uninformed speculation (the police ask questions, they don’t share details). There was nothing useful or productive to be said, and no threat to be dealt with, so we decided to avoid speculation and allow the police to do their work. I encouraged anyone on the committee with any information to contact the police, and the last thing we want to do is jeopardize their case. If there had been an on-going threat there would have been public announcements, extra security, police… Whatever the situation called for.
    In any case, we have resolved to further promote the existence of the harassment policy in future, and make the colour-coding we use even more well publicized. It was an extremely busy event, and sadly, any time you bring a lot of people together, there will be some bad apples. We watch for them, and will continue to do so. I want everyone to know that we are there to help, and based on what I saw over the weekend, I know our people are capable, responsible, and compassionate. I have to say that I am very proud of how the committee, and even some of our regular attendees (including Brent!) handled the incident.
    Thank you for your concern. I really feel that we all, committee and attendees, watch out for each other. I know the vibe over the weekend was as positive as I have ever seen it, and I think that sense of community is one of our best weapons against evil interlopers and jerks of all varieties. I’m glad you are keeping your eyes open. We are too.
    As for the other issue, the festival provides space for the Game Jam, but they run their own event. If you have any specific concerns, please drop me a line and we will get to work on resolving them in the future.
    Tara Murphy
    Sci-Fi on the Rock 8

    • Hi Tara,

      Thanks for the response. I am happy that the con has a harassment policy, and I am glad to hear you’re bringing it further to the fore in future. I think it’s a very positive development.

      As to the incident with the youth, as I noted in my post, I can accept that there could be a case for taking the discussion down, but it still makes me nervous that it disappeared completely. I’m not trying to give you a headache, I promise. I just think that if something that ends up requiring police involvement happens to a con-goer during the span of the convention, that’s probably relevant to attendees in general. Publicly acknowledging that something occurred, even if the relation to the con is tenuous, would be my preference.

      Maybe I’m wrong. Obviously I don’t have all the facts, nor am I burdened with the responsibility for taking care of issues like this, or caretaking for the event itself. I suppose mostly I just wanted to express my discomfort with those aspects of the event that seem to inhibit discussion within the community right now.

      I look forward to next year’s event. Thanks for everyone’s incredible efforts. It’s certainly a shining jewel of an achievement.

  3. Oh, and also, I am the “event organizer” (at least, I chair the committee made up of over 20 organizers) and I am not the one who went on Facebook and shut down the discussion. But It was done by a committee member after a quick discussion by the committee. Just to clear up that confusion.

    • I was using the appellation in the general sense, referring to an official from the event board, but I appreciate the clarification.

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